Our Building On Fire: Fear City 2012

Jan 31, 2012 by

“…as part of their fight against the City Hall cuts, the fire and police unions enlisted a PR firm and produced a leaflet for distribution at…airports and bus terminals. On the cover was a shrouded skull beneath the words ‘Welcome to Fear City.’ It counseled visitors to stay off the streets after 6:00 p.m., to avoid public transportation…and to be aware of fire hazards… It was like life during wartime.”

The above was written by Will Hermes about New York City, circa 1975.

I wonder when New Orleans’ finest and bravest will do something similar, but the former seems content with simply releasing the criminal records of the victims who have died violently in the past month of this new year, implying that, on a moral level, no matter how a victim may have been living shortly before his/her demise, looking back at the things many victims did that had the local authorities taking notice probably explains why they were fated to die at gunpoint – hey, it at least highlights “what we need to look at to fix the problem,” right?

Yes, this policy of releasing a victim’s arrest record has been going on for years – and it only got brought into question recently when the public considered the deaths of too-young Keira Holmes and Harry “Mike” Ainsworth in concert with an increase in petty crimes not seen in these parts since the 1990’s, the uproar over the French Quarter curfew, instances of rape and sexual assault that are on the rise, a shortage of patrolling officers despite NOPD chief Serpas’ assurances to the contrary, and a federally-mandated consent decree that may or may not be having an effect on how the NOPD is policing itself….and, if it is having an effect, it may be one of tying the police’s hands. (Incidentally, if anyone other than The Gambit and possibly the Independent Police Monitor have been looking closely at the creation and effects of these consent decrees, please let me know.) The difference in how the crime-fighters are dealing with it is in the “blame the victim” strategy, which has become a very popular one nationwide, especially with regards to education. The public is never entirely blameless, of course – there must be better ways for the disadvantaged in our community to quit trying to solve their problems with bullets, starting with better economic opportunities and a better education system, and we can certainly work much, much harder on those – but trying to beat victims’ dead bodies by revealing their pasts just to prove a moralizing point is no way to get a community behind the doings of the criminal justice system.

Perhaps, if the community revolts further, the next move will be the one that, in reality, the NYPD and NYFD never did completely follow through on: the tossing of a most unusual Carnival throw, a pamphlet with a jester-hatted skull on it welcoming fun-seeking tourists to New Fear City, warning them of sluggish police response times in the event of any criminal act; of the possibility that they, too, might want to observe the Quarter curfew intended for the young; of the reality that to die in New Orleans by gunfire means that your record will be on display, which, for most people here, is probably a great argument for immortality. Then tourism, the city’s main livelihood, will be under siege, held hostage by the NOPD in a bid to get somebody, anybody in power to pay attention to their problems.

The wrench in these works? The NOPD is already on a short leash. Biting the hands that are barely feeding them won’t help.

Building a real relationship with the community it must deal with every day will.


Update, 3:52 PM: Fed up with the NOPD’s policy of releasing the victims’ criminal records? Sign this petition.

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